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UN report warns on food supply risks

An international scientific panel has found that climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially reducing output and sending prices higher in a period when global food demand is expected to soar.

That finding is by far the starkest warning that the UN-appointed group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has ever issued regarding the food supply. Its last report, in 2007, was more sanguine, essentially finding that climatic warming and the rising level of carbon dioxide in the air would boost agricultural production across large areas, though that report did cite some risks.

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The warning is contained in a draft report that was leaked Friday. The document is not final and not scheduled for release until after an editing session in Yokohama, Japan, in March.

The draft report warns that sweeping effects from climate change are already being seen across the planet, and that these are likely to intensify as human emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise.

Echoing past findings, the draft report points out that land ice is melting worldwide, leading to a rise of the sea that is putting coastal communities at increased risk of flooding. It describes a natural world in turmoil as plants and animals attempt to migrate to escape rising temperatures, and warns that many could go extinct. Saving a significant fraction of the world’s biological diversity may require far more aggressive human management of natural systems, the report declares.

Efforts to adapt to climate change have begun in many countries, the report found; President Obama on Friday signed an executive order to step up such efforts in the United States. But these efforts remain inadequate compared with the risks, the report says, and far more intensive — and expensive — adaptation plans are likely to be required in the future.

The report found that it is not too late for cuts in emissions to have a strong impact on the future risks of climate change.

On the food supply, the new report finds that benefits from global warming may be seen in some areas, such as northern lands that are now marginal for food production. But it added that overall, climate change could reduce agricultural output as much as 2 percent per decade for the rest of this century, compared with what output would be without climate change.

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